If you live in an area where roller derby leagues have sprouted up over the last decade like the many heads of a hydra, transferring to another league may have crossed your mind. Maybe another outfit works better geographically for you or you want to try a different level of competition or your current league no longer meets your needs as a skater.

Two years ago, I made the leap from a league I skated with for about five seasons to an older, more competitive league in my town. It was a hard decision to make because I felt like I was abandoning my old league, which had given me so much over the years, and the friendships I’d made there. However, I was at a crossroads at that time. My passion for roller derby had started to dwindle and I was headed for retirement unless I changed something. I still loved the sport as a way to maintain an active lifestyle, be involved with a vibrant, social community, and provide myself with new challenges all the time. I felt I still had a lot to learn.

I haven’t written a lot about my transfer because at first I was worried about hurting other people’s feelings, but then because some aspects of it were hard to process. I also broke my hand twice, which made it physically difficult to type. But I did want to offer some advice on how to transfer with intention and kindness if that’s something that comes up in your derby career.

Obviously, if you have been the victim of bullying or find yourself in some other personally untenable position with a league, many of these suggestions won’t apply. I trust everyone reading can make a choice on what’s best for them in that regard. But if you have the luxury, like I did, of making the decision without hard feelings toward your old league and a sincere desire to embrace a new experience, follow these steps:

  1. Follow the first rule of roller derby: Don’t be a douchebag.
  2. Make sure you are transferring for the right reasons. In other words, don’t leave in a fit of anger because some invisible forces are “holding you back” or you don’t think you’ve gotten the recognition you believe the universe owes you or you want to teach someone else a lesson. Take a while to reflect on your reasons before making a final decision.

    I have been pivoting a lot this year. (Photo courtesy of Greg Dunn)

    I have been pivoting a lot this year. (Photo by Greg Dunn)

  3.  Tell your soon-to-be former league that you’re leaving and why so people don’t wonder. It’s also a great opportunity to give your old league feedback on how to improve for skaters like you.
  4.  Give friends who might be hurt a heads up, and reassurance it’s not them you’re leaving. I wrote several personal letters, and I’m glad I did that.
  5. Wrap up your committee work and transfer your duties with your old league to someone responsible. (See Step 1.)
  6. Make an announcement on social media to let people know that you’ll be skating for a new team.
  7. Or don’t make an announcement on social media. I didn’t. It led to some confusion for a few months, however, I didn’t want to seem like I was trashing my old team by announcing a departure or press on the fresh wounds of people whose feelings I had hurt.
  8. Learn about your new league — read the bylaws, get familiar with the tools they use for communication, and make sure you understand attendance and committee requirements.
  9. Market yourself in your new league or, as some people call it: Make friends. I could have done better at that in the beginning, but I am socially awkward. At the very least, go to practice and participate in shit.
  10. Be ready to play a new position, whatever your league needs. After five years of jamming, I learned how to be a better blocker and pivot. That was fun! Especially all the new strategy stuff.
  11. Or, alternatively, insist on playing (or at least practicing) the position you have most played and love. Obviously, I didn’t do that, and I do have some regrets about losing my jamming skills and some of the confidence that went with them.

    I was primarily a jammer with my old league. (Photo by John Wijsman)

    I was primarily a jammer with my old league. (Photo by John Wijsman)

  12. Check your ego and keep your expectations reasonable. In other words, don’t expect to immediately have the same status with your new league as you did your old, either in terms of the administrative hierarchy, making rosters and everything else. I actually enjoyed this aspect of transferring — I got to focus on skating and minimize my responsibilities after years of holding a board seat, heading a committee, being a captain and serving as a general information depot in my old league. You’ll have to learn the ropes and prove yourself again. But expect the experience to sometimes test your ego and confidence.
  13. Take the lessons you learned from your old league and apply them. You’ll find different leagues do some things better than others, so use your experience and knowledge to help your new league.
  14. Be a bridge between your leagues. Oftentimes secondary leagues spring up in the same city due to disagreements or animosity. Don’t contribute to bad blood or divisions. Don’t trash talk. I have helped schedule several scrimmage opportunities between my leagues, for example. As far as I’m concerned, we all skate under the flag of roller derby and are more alike than we are different. See Step 1.

    Having some fun with friends while cheering on my old league.

    Having some fun with friends while cheering on my old league.

  15. Support your old team. Go to their bouts and cheer for your old teammates and new skaters coming up through their ranks. Like their posts on social media. Be a mensch. I haven’t done as much of this as I would like because of my many obligations with my new league, but I make sure to attend a bout or two of my old league each season. It’s fun to just spectate and cheer!

In other words, there’s no one way to do the cross-town transfer, but I think I minimized drama associated with it and I have never regretted my decision. I agonized on the front end, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be in practice. It’s true that I don’t get to see some old friends as often as I would like, but I didn’t destroy any friendships. Overall, transferring gave me new goals to work toward and renewed passion that will propel me for a couple more years in this crazy, exciting sport.

Have you transferred leagues? What went well and what didn’t? Do you have any regrets or wish you did something differently? Share your experiences in the comments.